No one expects pets to be pristine, but good hygiene is essential, not only for your dog’s or cat’s health but for yours, too. That includes everything from frequent litter changes to wiping down a pup’s paws, not to mention regular baths. Want your furry pals as clean as can be? Follow these routines to keep allergens and germs off your animal—and out of your home.
Aim to bathe your dog at least every three months. Extra-wrinkly breeds may require more frequent attention. "If not regularly cleansed, skin folds can become moist and irritated, leading to bacterial and yeast overgrowth,” says Christine Cain, DVM, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Clean wrinkles with antiseptic wipes or solution several times a week. Dogs (and owners) with allergies may benefit from more regular bath sessions, to remove pollen.
Protect your pup from potential irritants (like sidewalk muck and harmful plants) by cleaning paws with a damp washcloth or hypoallergenic baby wipes. “In the winter, when dogs are walking on salt or de-icing agents, I recommend wiping after every walk,” says Cain. “Patients with allergies should wipe at the end of every day to remove pollens and other allergens."
Mind the box
Beyond being smelly, a stale litter box can pose health hazards. "Leaving soiled litter in the box can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria, which can be a concern for both pet and human health," explains Cain. Scoop the box at least once a day and clean it out fully once or twice a week. (Scrub with water and unscented soap or baking soda, rinse with very hot water, dry, then fill with fresh litter.)
The protein animals shed from their skin can trigger allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to it. "Keep pets out of the bedroom so at least the room where you sleep stays dander-free," advises David Rosenstreich, MD, director of allergy and immunology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "HEPA air purifiers are also very effective, especially for things like cat dander, which is very fine and floats through the air."
How bad is it to kiss your dog?
Real talk: Dogs lick their butts; some eat poop (one in four has done so at least once, per research). In theory, a smooch from your pooch could expose you to feces-borne parasites or bacteria. But most likely you’ll be fine. To get you sick, notes Cain, your dog would need to lick your mouth, making you ingest its saliva. Even then, your immune system would probably fight off infection.